As we spend time learning Pidgin one of our main tactics is known (in our world) as elicitation.* Our strategy is to draw out a phrase or story that might give us insight into something we are investigating within the language. When trying to elicit a phrase it is important to avoid a direct translation and instead get a native speaker to tell us what he would say in the situation we are asking about.

The best way to find out how PNGians speak naturally in a given situation is to actually witness the situation and hear what they say. Unfortunately, not everything we are trying to learn comes up in a daily routine. So instead of constantly asking “How do you say…?” we must describe hypothetical situations and ask what they would say under certain circumstances. Then, hopefully, we get a natural response rather than a word for word translation that would make us sound like an foreigner. Lots of times this works very well. Not today.



Today we took the two objects pictured above planning to ask Hoax to tell us about the differences between them. Our goals were:

  1. Learn a good way to ask “What’s the difference between X and Y?”
  2. Hear Hoax give a description of two different things so we could learn how they compare and contrast things.

I thought the two objects would give us ample opportunity for comparing and contrasting shape, color, size, firmness and texture. Here is how the conversation went (except it was in Pidgin):

Me: Hoax, you see these two things. They aren’t the same thing. If you wanted to ask me in what way they are not the same, what would you say?
Hoax: What of these two things is narapla narapla?
[Now I think I have the question I’m looking for]
Me: Allright, what of these two things is narapla narapla?
Hoax: This one is a ball. This one is a piece of lumber.
[Not exactly what I was going for.]
Me: Ok, can you tell me more ways these are narapla narapla?
Hoax: You can’t say that.
Me: If I wanted you to tell me how this one is red, round and soft while this one is brown, hard and square, what would I say?
Hoax: (Pointing) This one is red. This one is brown. This one round. This one is square.
Me: In America we grow lots of kinds of apples (not a common thing here) and we have different names for all of them. Imagine you came with me to America and I put two apples in front of you. You think they look the same, but I know they are not the same. You don’t know they are not the same, but I do. What would you ask me?
Hoax: Are these two the same?
Me: No, they’re not.
Me: Suppose I know that one is white inside and one is yellow inside. They are not the same. But you do not know in what way they are not the same. What would you ask me?
Hoax: What color is this one inside?
Me: Could you say, “What of these two things is narapla narapla?”
Hoax: No.
Me: Suppose you had one kakaruk banana here and one mau banana here. (They grow about a dozen different kinds of bananas.) What if said, “What of these two things is narapla narapla?”
Hoax: This one is a kakaruk banana. This one is a mau banana.
Me: Ok, great! I think that does it for today.

*From the root elicit. Not to be confused with illicit.

  1. How many times did you bang your head against a wall?

  2. karen swoap

    It seems that the toughest part is trying to figure out what questions you should ask given the situation, but of course you cannot do that well until you know the language. And if you know the answer to your question then it is hard to stage the situation…We need to pray for Hoax…that he won’t get tired of your questions! 🙂 How is Belle the Baptist doing with eating insects…using any honey?

  3. Whose on first? My blood pressure is up just reading this. Good luck with that. Sounds like a long, arduous process.

  4. Taylor Beard

    This made me laugh, not at you, but because I have experienced this frustration first hand. Trying to communicate like a native is one of the most difficult aspects of learning a second language. My señora in Spain would always stop us mid-sentence and say: “Stop talking. You have not said anything. Begin again.” It was incredibly frustrating and my brain would often hurt from trying so hard!

What do you think?